“Game of Thrones” Season 6, episode 9, “Battle of the Bastards,” had its fair share of casualties. Because “Game of Thrones” is fiction, fans can feel cheated with an unsatisfactory conclusion or an ending that feels unwarranted. That’s why the fate of Rickon Stark feels like a wasted opportunity when “A Song of Ice and Fire” seemed to be setting the youngest Stark up for something important.
Warning: “Game of Thrones” Season 6 spoilers and “A Song of Ice and Fire” discussion ahead.
Rickon Stark died before doing anything in Westeros, appearing in just 14 episodes. The only time Rickon was important to the overall “Game of Thrones” storyline was when Theon Greyjoy claimed to have killed Rickon and Bran Stark. In “Game of Thrones” Season 1, Rickon showed an interesting mix of childish naïveté and perhaps the greensight ability seen in in Bran. Rickon had a dream that Ned Stark was in the crypt of Winterfell. Bran had a similar dream, and the brothers hear the news of their father’s death from Ser Rodrick Cassel.
Rickon’s life on the run begins in “Game of Thrones” Season 2. With Robb off to war, Bran is the acting Lord of Winterfell with Rickon by his side. During this time, Theon is leading an attack on Winterfell. When Theon’s forces arrive at Winterfell, Rickon, Bran, Hodor and Osha flee to a nearby farm. After eluding Theon, and returning to Winterfell, the group flees once again after Ramsay Bolton takes over the castle.
“Game of Thrones” Season 3 sees the group on the road north to Castle Black. During their travels they meet Meera and Jojen Reed. After a close call with a Wildling group, the parties agree to split up. Osha and Rickon head to House Umber, while Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen try to find the Three-Eyed Raven.
Two seasons go by as everyone in Westeros believes the two Stark boys are dead. The audience at home knows of Bran’s journey, but can only assume Rickon has made it to House Umber. It wasn’t until Season 6, episode 3, that viewers learned of Rickon’s fate. House Umber betrayed the Starks. Smalljon Umber presents Rickon and Osha to Ramsay Bolton with the head of Shaggydog as proof of Rickon’s identity. Rickon’s next appearance would be his last as an arrow from Ramsay Bolton kills the youngest Stark.
Rickon was a non-factor in “Game of Thrones” without much purpose. The other Starks had clear paths promising fruitful storylines. There’s Robb Stark, the noble king reluctantly going to war, only to meet a tragic end. Sansa Stark has gone from a girl who wanted to believe in the fairy tale of queens and kings to a woman who understands the harsh reality of Westeros. Arya Stark is just coming to terms with her identity as a Stark while Bran is busy up north warging and gaining insights into the past and future of Westeros. Rickon was on the run and then was dead.
The life of young Rickon Stark could have been very different. George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” appeared to be setting up something important, or at the very least interesting, with the young Stark.
Rickon pulled a disappearing act in Martin’s series, but there was a major difference in where the Stark boy fled to safety. In “Game of Thrones,” it was clear that Rickon was headed to House Umber. In “A Clash of Kings,” the novel, Osha, Rickon and Shaggydog just split with Bran. It’s not until “A Dance With Dragons” that readers hear a rumor that Rickon was last seen in Skagos.
Skagos is a northern island whose residents are believed to engage in cannibalism. It’s a wild, exciting place that matches the unruly Rickon. Few people would willingly go near Skagos, so you can imagine how Ser Davos felt when Lord Wyman Manderly tells him to head to the island and bring Rickon back to Westeros. If successful, Lord Wyman would pledge fealty to Stannis Baratheon.
How Rickon managed to reach Skagos is an accomplishment in its own right. With all the lore surrounding the island, Skagos is a fantastical location that could be home to unicorns. That’s right, Rickon is on an island with unicorns.
Entering complete fantasy, Jon Snow had a dream — through Ghost’s perspective — of Shaggydog killing a unicorn. Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest, tells Bran that unicorns, while quite rare, do exist.
Instead of Rickon living in a land with cannibals and unicorns, “Game of Thrones” Season 6 had him as a prisoner before being killed by Ramsay Bolton. Luckily, Martin still has two more books to finish, which means there’s hope for Rickon yet.